By Stefanie Sybens (Belgium)
A Collection of Deaths in The Book Thief
The opening shot, as well as the closing shot, is the most important part of a movie as the audience is able to get dragged away into a faraway world. The Book Thief, based on the 2005 bestseller by Markus Zusak, opens with images of clouds where the narrator – Death himself (Roger Allam) – is being portrayed as a wise man with a great understanding of the human mind. He is our guide throughout the story and stays with us until the last shot where Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is an old woman ready to join her lost friends.
The movie is set in Nazi Germany where 10 year-old Liesel has been given up to her new foster parents. Her father whom she calls “Papa” can light up the entire house by playing the accordion. His wife, Rosa (Emily Watson), held a more severe approach towards Liesel but this “though love” attitude was nonetheless real love for this little girl. Liesel is being forced to join the Hitler Youth where the overwhelming book-burning scene takes place on the town square. She is being brought up in a society where her norms and values don’t coincide with the Nazi regime. One night, Liesel is able to rescue one book from the fire where her father (Geoffrey Rush) takes it upon himself to teach her how to read. The basement serves as a classroom and the walls as a chalkboard where Liesel writes down every word she comes across.
The movie continues with her foster parents taking in a Jewish refugee as he comes knocking on the door on a cold winter night. They keep him hidden in the basement where Liesel takes care of this stranger who immediately occupies a special place in her heart. The historical background is heavily focused upon in the story but toned down by the characters that could easily belong in a fairytale.
The magical setting of the snowy landscape and kids playing on the street takes the seriousness of the topic. However, the movie does provide us with devastating shots during WWII such as when the town is leveled by bombs. Bodies are being piled up on the street – even Liesel’s parents and her friend Rudy (Nico Liersch), ready to be taken care of by our narrator.
Liesel’s love for books adds an extra dimension to the movie as well. It is rewarding to see a little girl being brought up by magical words and later on even books. It accentuates the power that literature has always had over people and will continue to have.Liesel was able to survive in a world she didn’t believe in because sometimes – hidden deep into the night – there were moments she could believe what she wanted to believe.
Her stories, written down by her from the very first start, were being read by numerous people when the war was over and she hoped that people would continue to believe when they didn’t want to anymore.